by Weston Cutter
What follow is a pair of reviews I should’ve done long, long ago, but I’m a terrible person, so there’s that to daily contend with. Elsewhere: a poem of mine in the latest issue of Witness, and plenty of other stuff over at the Kenyon Review Blog (which is where lots of what’d otherwise be here at Corduroy are—for instance, reviews of the absolutely incredible HHhH by Laurent Binet, a review of the latest Jorie Graham [short version: it's very very good], and reviews of Kevin Young’s incredible Gray Album, the recent/posthumous John Leonard, and the collected Gilbert [which I should've made a bigger deal about and mentioned here as well, because holy shit, right? Gilbert's collected? That's like magic; you should buy the thing automatically, even if you hate Gilbert (though if you do, wtf?), just because you can finally have your own copy of the first two books), and also a review over at Rain Taxi as well.
American Icon by Bruce G Hoffman
Until recently I'd owned only one car in my entire life, the vehicle I've been driving for the past 12 years now, which vehicle is a '91 Ford Ranger, and which vehicle will soon die and I'll be just bereft, inconsolable (215k miles, fyi). Growing up, my family seemed more GM people, or at least my mother was, and so getting the keys from my grandpa to the truck was strange—the keys were different than any I'd handled. This stuff isn't necessarily crucial, other than to say: I became, because of my grandpa, a very very big Ford supporter, and it was fucking heartbreaking to watch them suck so terribly for so long, and it's been pretty thrilling to watch them turn around (you may have read, for instance, that this past week they got the blue oval back; yes, they actually had to leverage their own icon to continue).
American Icon is the story of Ford's turnaround, which means it's also the story of Alan Mulally, a former Boeing exec who stepped to Ford's helm after Ford'd spent years with shit leadership (and not just shit leadership, but actively bad leadership, leadership which seemed to guarantee the company's fracturing and dismality...but of course in the late 90's and early 2000's, when the American Dream had to arrive with an SUV for every family, Ford was the biggest benefactor of our automotive idiocy, though despite that, they made mostly terrible cars [if you're really interested in this stuff, check the phenomenal CNBC documentary on Ford as well]). It’s a brisk read, written incredibly well by Bryce Hoffman, a writer who’s been covering the Ford Motor Company since ’05 for the Detroit News, and you will, if you’re like me, find that your reasons for liking Ford are totally validated. Yes: it’s sucky that their best stuff still doesn’t quite match the best stuff from other companies (but then again, it’s batshit that Mazda’s a losing-money enterprise when they’ve got arguably the best cars on the road, so), but I’m at least excited to be able to think about buying a Ford again. The book’s a great, great read.
I found this book very strange. On the one hand, it was instantly, pleasantly readable, and quick—one finishes it in maybe two hours. On the other hand, the book was, is, little more than Samarov’s gathered thoughts on being a cabbie in Chicago. That’s not a bad thing, obviously, but Samarov is one bleak and dour man—no one in this book is purely good. The kind way to say what Samarov is doing is: he’s casting a wry eye on the human comedy and condition. The mean way: he’s a prick who so doubts humanity that he can’t believe anyone would every ask him about himself out of authentic regard; everyone who gets in his cab, everyone everywhere, has a 100% selfish agenda, and that’s that. Maybe not: maybe Samarov’s a nice enough guy and he’s chosen to slice off this caustic view of Chicago because it’s what people like seeing in the Chicago Reader, where some of this stuff appeared before (also at Hack, his website, at which you’re invited to go take a look and revel in the everything’s-shit tone), but regardless: this is a bleak little book. Along with the text, the book features art from Samarov as well (that’s his work on the cover, too).
Anyway: it’s a book, and I’m mentioning it here because it’s about Chicago, which is the city where love comes from, and it’s certainly interesting to know about what transpires in cab garages, but this book is, but the reader has to listen to a hell of a lot of acid to get any notes of grace. And as an ending and preempt: I’m not advocating some Pollyana-ish anything, and everyone’s welcome to be as shitty and bitter as they choose, but when Samarov speaks of a woman getting in his cab with excitement—she got a part as a supernumerary in the opera and is thrilled—he pathetically finishes the scene as follows: “The sun is setting and my goals are more modest than hers. The cabdriver’s role is to play a bit part in others’ lives and be compensated accordingly.” (p.43) Ignoring entirely the fact that such an abstract statement could fucking apply to anyone in any public service job [teacher, waiter, bartender, banker, etc.], one wants, on reading the line, to just smack Samarov: grow up. Is he pissed that she didn’t ask him about his life? If so, he’s lying to either himself or the reader: elsewhere in the book he’s frustrated with people asking him questions about his life, totally confident they’re not really interested in him. So what’s the dour little piss sentence for? Again: I’m not looking for endless sunshine, but all Samarov seems capable of seeing or reporting on is bleakness, the worst of everything. Knock yourself out if that’s your bag.